Monday, June 10, 2013

TOP STORY >> Drug case in Cabot overturned

Leader staff writer

The Arkansas Supreme Court ruled Thursday that a Cabot man arrested in July 2010 and later found guilty in a jury trial of multiple drug charges will get a new trial because then Circuit Judge Phil Whiteaker didn’t allow him to be represented by the attorney of his choice.

The vote to reverse Ulises Arroyo Jr.’s conviction for possession of methamphetamine, possession of drug paraphernalia, maintaining a drug premises and simultaneous possession of drugs and firearms was 5-2.

Arroyo had been sentenced to 29 years in prison.

Lonoke County Prosecutor Chuck Graham, who was not prosecutor when Arroyo was on trial the first time, said Arroyo will be released from state prison to the county jail.

“On Monday, we’ll get the case back on the docket. He’ll get back in the system and we’ll set a new trial date,” Graham said.

Arroyo and his wife, Gisella, were arrested at the same time and were both represented by Jim Hensley. On the day before the trial was to begin, Arroyo and Hensley asked the court to sever the cases and allow him to be represented by Edward Adcock. Whiteaker agreed to sever the cases but said if Hensley was prepared to go to trial for Ulises Arroyo then he must.

Justice Jim Hannah wrote in the majority opinion for the court, “In this case, there is no evidence in the record that the circuit court balanced (Arroyo’s) right to choice of counsel against the needs of fairness and the demands of its calendar.

“We recognize that (Arroyo) made his request for change of counsel on the eve of trial, but there is no evidence that (he) made the request primarily for the purpose of delay, and (he) had already obtained substitute counsel.

“We note that the circuit court made no attempt to determine why (Arroyo) requested the change or whether (he) had acted diligently in seeking the change. “In fact, the circuit court made no inquiry at all about why (Arroyo) did not want Hensley to represent him.

“Moreover, while Adcock requested at the pretrial hearing that he be allowed to state why (Arroyo) needed a continuance, the circuit court declined to hear from Adcock. The fact that the circuit court failed to ask Adcock how long he would need to prepare adequately for trial evidences a failure to actually balance the right to choice of counsel against the needs of fairness, and suggests that the court unreasonably viewed any delay as unacceptable.”

According to information contained in an opinion by the Arkansas Court of Appeals which earlier upheld Arroyo’s conviction, the Cabot Police Department received numerous reports of drug activity at Arroyo’s home and began surveillance of the property. On June, 24, 2010, the police searched his trash and found 0.0328 grams of methamphetamine in a Tupperware container along with gun oil and packaging for a pipe commonly used to smoke methamphetamine. Several surveillance cameras were also mounted around his home.

A search warrant was issued and on July 2, police entered his home and found a gun and loaded clip. Arroyo, who was initially cooperative, began convulsing and was taken to a hospital where a toxicology screen was positive for methamphetamine in an amount higher than the lab was capable of measuring.

An empty piece of cellophane in the bathroom tested positive for the drug and police found a glass pipe in the toilet. The search of Arroyo’s home also produced a safe containing $4,759 in cash and bulletproof vests.